According to ESPN, the US government has now declared basketball star Brittney Griner, wrongfully detained in Russia, and has resolved to work more aggressively to secure her release even as the legal case against her continues.
“The State Department has determined that the Russian Federation wrongfully detained US citizen Brittney Griner,” a State Department official told ESPN. “With this decision, Roger Carstens, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, will lead the interagency team tasked with securing Brittney Griner’s release.”
The SPEHA office directs and coordinates the government’s diplomatic efforts to secure the release of Americans wrongfully detained in foreign countries.
They were instrumental in obtaining the release of US citizen and former Marine Trevor Reed from Russia last week.
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Phoenix Mercury Center, the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury Center, was arrested on February 17th at a Moscow airport after Russian authorities allegedly discovered vape cartridges containing cannabis oil in her luggage during a search.
Griner, 31, is now under criminal investigation for “large-scale transportation of drugs,” an offense that can carry a sentence of up to 10 years behind bars in Russia.
The WNBA 2022 season begins on Friday, and will honour Griner by displaying her initials (BG) and jersey number (42) on the sidelines of all 12 home courts.
“As we begin the 2022 season, we are keeping Brittney at the forefront of what we do through the game of basketball and in the community,” WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert said in a news release. “We continue to work on bringing Brittney home and are grateful for the community’s support of BG and her family during this extraordinarily difficult time,” she added.